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Madness are a British pop/ska band from Camden Townmarker, Londonmarker, that formed in 1976. In 2009, the band have continued to perform with their most recognised lineup of seven members, although their lineup has varied slightly over the years. They were one of the most prominent bands of the late-1970s 2 Tone ska revival.

Madness achieved most of their success in the early to mid 1980s. Both Madness and UB40 spent 214 weeks on the UK singles charts over the course of the decade, holding the record for most weeks spent by a group in the 1980s UK singles charts. However, Madness achieved this in a shorter time period (1980–1986).


1975–1978: Formation

The core of the band formed as The Invaders in 1976, and included Mike Barson (Monsieur Barso) on keyboards and vocals, Chris Foreman (Chrissy Boy) on guitar and Lee Thompson (Kix) on saxophone and vocals. They later recruited John Hasler on drums and Cathal Smyth (better known as Chas Smash) on bass guitar. Later in the year, they were joined by lead vocalist "Dikron".

This six-piece lineup lasted until part way through 1977, when Graham McPherson (better known as Suggs) took over the lead vocals after seeing the band perform in a friend's garden. Smyth, who left after an argument with Mike Barson, was replaced by Gavin Rodgers, Barson's girlfriend's brother. McPherson was kicked out of the band for too often choosing to watch Chelsea instead of rehearsing. Thompson left the band after Barson criticised his saxophone playing.

By 1978, the band had allowed McPherson to return, after filling in temporarily for Hasler (who had taken over vocals when McPherson was removed). Thompson returned after patching things up with Barson, and Daniel Woodgate (Woody) and Mark Bedford (Bedders) also joined the band, on drums, replacing Garry Dovey, and bass guitar, replacing Gavin Rodgers, respectively. After briefly changing their name to Morris and the Minors, the band renamed itself as Madness; paying homage to one of their favourite songs by ska/reggae artist Prince Buster. The band remained a sextet until late 1979, when Chas Smash rejoined and officially became the seventh member of Madness as a backing vocalist and trumpet player.

1979–1981: Early success

In 1979, the band recorded the Lee Thompson composition "The Prince". The song, like the band's name, paid homage to their idol, Prince Buster. The song was released through 2 Tone Records, the label of The Specials founder Jerry Dammers. The song was a surprise hit, peaking in the UK music charts at number 16. A performance of "The Prince" on popular UK music show Top of the Pops helped Madness gain public recognition. Madness then toured with fellow 2 Tone bands The Specials and The Selecter, before recording their debut album, One Step Beyond..., which was released by Stiff Records. The album included a re-recording of "The Prince" and its B-side "Madness", and the band's second and third singles: "One Step Beyond" and "My Girl". The title song was a cover of the B-side of the 1960s Prince Buster hit "Al Capone". One Step Beyond... stayed in the Britishmarker charts for 37 weeks, peaking at number 2. After the release of "My Girl", the band felt that they had exhausted the material from One Step Beyond..., and did not want to release any more singles from the album. However, Dave Robinson, head of Stiff Records, disagreed. Eventually, a compromise was made, and the band decided to release an EP featuring one album track and three new tracks. The result was the Work Rest and Play EP, which was headlined by the song "Night Boat to Cairo", from the One Step Beyond album. The EP reached number 6 in the UK singles chart.

The following year, the band's second album, Absolutely reached number 2 in the UK album charts. Absolutely spawned some of the band's biggest hits, most notably "Baggy Trousers", which peaked at number 3 in the UK singles chart. "Embarrassment" reached number 4 in the charts, and the instrumental song "Return of the Los Palmas 7" climbed to number 7. Although the album reviews were generally less enthusiastic than those of One Step Beyond..., they were mostly positive. Robert Christgau gave the album a favourable B- grade, but Rolling Stone Magazine awarded the album just one out of five stars. Rolling Stone was particularly scathing of the ska revival in general, stating that "The Specials wasn't very good" and Madness were simply "the Blues Brothers with English accents".

Take It or Leave It is a drama documentary film released in 1981. It features the band members playing themselves in a re-creation of their early days to the then current period.

1981–1984: Change of direction

In 1981, the band's third studio album, 7, reached number 5 in the UK album charts and contained three hit singles: "Grey Day" (no. 4, April 1981), "Shut Up" (no. 7, September 1981), and "Cardiac Arrest" (no. 14, February 1982). In an article in 1979, Chris Foreman explained that the band's music would move with the times, and change styles as time goes on. This was shown to be the case, as unlike the two ska-filled, fast-paced albums that preceded it, 7 was somewhat of a change in direction. Suggs' vocal performance changed significantly, and his strong Cockney accent from the previous albums had been watered down. The album strayed from the ska-influenced sound of One Step Beyond... and Absolutely, and moved towards a pop sound; a trend that continued with subsequent albums. Near the end of 1981, Madness released one of their most recognised songs: a cover of Labi Siffre's 1971 hit "It Must Be Love". The song climbed to number 4 in the UK, and in 1983, the song peaked at number 33 in the US  charts. In 1982, Madness released their only number 1 hit to date, "House of Fun", which they played live on the 1980s series The Young Ones, and also reached number 1 in the album charts with their first compilation, Complete Madness.

In November 1982, they released their fourth studio album, The Rise & Fall. The album was well received in the UK, but didn't get an American release. Instead, many of its songs were included on the US compilation Madness, including "Our House", which was their most internationally successful single to date. "Our House" reached number 5 in the UK music charts and number 7 in the US charts; it was also performed live on The Young Ones. Many reviewers compared the The Rise & Fall to The Kinks' Village Green Preservation Society, and it is at times retrospectively considered a concept album. The album also featured "Primrose Hill", which was more similar to The Beatles song "Strawberry Fields Forever", containing similar psychedelic imagery and a layered arrangement.At this time Mike Barson wanted a break from touring so James Mackie took his place for live appearances and tours. Mackie made his live debut with Madness on the US hit television show Saturday Night Live.

In 1983, their single "Wings of a Dove" peaked at number 2 in the UK charts, followed by "The Sun & The Rain" (no. 5, November 1983). Their following album, Keep Moving, peaked at number 6 in the UK album charts, and two singles from that album reached the top 20 in the UK music charts. The album received some good reviews, with Rolling Stone magazine giving the album four out of five stars, applauding the band's changing sound. This was an improvement as the last album reviewed by the magazine, Absolutely, was heavily criticised.

1985–1987: Decline and breakup

October 1983, the band's founder, keyboardist and prominent songwriter Mike Barson decided to leave the band, partly because he had relocated to Amsterdammarker, Netherlandsmarker. He officially left the band in June 1984, following the release of "One Better Day". The six remaining members left Stiff Records and formed their own label, Zarjazz Records, which was a sub-label of Virgin Records. In 1985, the label released the band's sixth album, Mad Not Mad. Barson's keyboard parts were filled by synthesisers and Steve Nieve joined the band to take his place. In later years, frontman Suggs described the album as a "polished turd". The album reached number 16 in the UK charts, which was the band's lowest position on the album charts to date. Despite the poor chart showing, the album was listed as number 55 in NME's All Time 100 Albums. The singles for the album fared even worse, with "Yesterday's Men" peaking at number 18 in the UK charts. The subsequent singles, "Uncle Sam" and "Sweetest Girl", failed to make the top 20, which was a first for Madness singles.

The band then attempted to record a new album, and 11 demo tracks were recorded. However, "musical differences" arose between band members, and in September 1986, the band announced that they were to split. Barson rejoined the band for a farewell single, " The Ghost Train", but did not appear in the music video. The band officially split following the release of the single, which reached a high of number 18 in the UK. In 1988, four members of the band — Suggs, Chas Smash, Lee Thompson and Chris Foreman — created a new band, using the name The Madness. After one self-titled album and two singles that failed to make the top 40, the band split.

1993–2003: Reunion and Our House musical

Towards the end of 1991, "It Must Be Love" was re-released and eventually reached number 6 in the UK singles chart in February 1992. Following that, the singles compilation Divine Madness was released and peaked at number 1 in the album charts. Madness then announced plans for a reunion concert, Madstock!, which was held at Finsbury Parkmarker, Londonmarker on 8 August and 9 of that year. The original lineup reunited, performing together for the first time since Mike Barson left the band in 1984. Over 75,000 fans attended the weekend festival, and during "One Step Beyond", local residents allegedly reported an earthquake to the police. A subsequent live album was released, and the associated single, "The Harder They Come" (a cover of Jimmy Cliff's 1973 song) reached number 44 in the UK, with the album reaching number 22.

The band continued to reunite for annual UK Christmas season tours and held three more Madstock! festivals; in 1994, 1996 and 1998. Also in 1998, Madness returned to America for their first tour there since 1984. The live album Universal Madness was recorded at the Universal Amphitheatre in L.A. and released the following year. In 1999, Madness released their first studio album since 1986, entitled Wonderful. The album reached number 17 in the UK album charts, and the lead single, "Lovestruck", gave the band their first new top 10 hit in the UK since 1983. Neither of the two subsequent singles from the album, "Johnny The Horse" and "Drip Fed Fred", entered the top 40 of the UK charts.

From 28 October 2002 to 16 August 2003, a musical based on Madness songs, Our House, ran at the Cambridge Theatremarker in Londonmarker. Madness played a role in the executive production of the show, and Suggs played a role in the production for a period of time, playing the central character's father. It won an Olivier Award for best new musical of 2003, and the performance was released on DVD on 1 November 2004. There was also a previous musical based on Madness songs, One Step Beyond!, written by Alan Gilbey. The musical had a brief run at the Theatre Royal Stratford Eastmarker in 1993.

2004–present: The Dangermen, The Liberty of Norton Folgate and beyond

In 2004, the band played a series of low-key concerts as The Dangermen, performing covers of classic reggae and ska songs. A lot of the songs were those played by the band when they were first forming, and the band performed the songs as a celebration of their 25th anniversary. This led to the release of the album The Dangermen Sessions Vol. 1 on V2 Records in August 2005. However, during the sessions which produced the album, the band's guitarist Chris Foreman announced his departure. Foreman left the band in mid-2005, citing "the petty, time consuming bollocks that goes on in the band" in a statement announcing his decision to leave. The band completed the album without him, and on release, it peaked at no. 11 in the UK album charts, which was the band's highest studio album chart position in 21 years. Although two singles were released, neither was a major success in the UK. The more successful of the two, "Shame & Scandal", reached number 38, but was more successful in France where it peaked at number 12. "Girl Why Don't You?" reached no. 77 in the UK and the band left the V2 record label shortly after. At this time, Kevin Burdett joined as the band's guitarist for live appearances and also appeared in the videos for both 'Sorry' and 'NW5'.

The six remaining members of Madness began working on their first original album in seven years. However, for Madness' 2006 Christmas season tour, Chris Foreman rejoined the band.

In March 2007, the non-LP single "Sorry" was released on the band's own record label Lucky 7 Records, peaking in the UK charts at number 23. The single included a version featuring UK hip hop artists Sway DaSafo and Baby Blue. Both artists were included on the music video which accompanied the hip-hop version of the song, but not on the original music video.

It was announced in September 2007 that Madness would embark on a seven date U.K. stadium tour including a date at The O2marker in London. Both the London dates of the tour were recorded live for limited distribution.

The new Madness song "NW5 (I Would Give You Everything)" and a re-recorded version of "It Must Be Love" were featured in the German film Neues vom Wixxer. The two songs were released in Germany as a double A-Side, and both of them were turned into music videos. Various band members have stated the upcoming album is to be a concept album entitled The Liberty Of Norton Folgate.
 A re-recorded version of 'NW5' was released as a single on 14 January 2008 in the UK reaching no. 24.

In June 2008 they showcased the majority of their new album The Liberty of Norton Folgate at London's Hackney Empiremarker for 3 nights. Madness played two dates in December 2008, firstly in Manchester on 18th of December, and secondly a return gig to The O2marker in London on the 19th.In December 2008 the band also announced that for their 30th anniversary in 2009, they would be staging a 5th Madstock festival in London's Victoria Park on 17 July, 11 years after the last Madstock concert. It was also rumoured that the newly reformed The Specials would make an appearance after finishing their reunion tour (April-May 2009)[6685] however this did not occur. However, Jerry Dammers was announced as a support act with The Spatial AKA Orchestra shortly before the festival.

In January 2009 it was announced that Madness would be play three outdoor concerts across England in the June and July.

Through late March and early April 2009 the band played a series of V Festival and separate headlining gigs dates across Australia. The first single from their latest album, entitled "Dust Devil", was released on 11 May on Lucky 7 Records. Alfie Allen and Jaime Winstone co-starred in the music video. The single charted at #64 on the UK singles charts and at #1 on the UK Independent charts on 17 May 2009. The album, released a week later, charted at #5 in the UK album charts. On 31 May they played at Pinkpopmarker, the oldest annual festival in the world which is held on the Pentecost weekend in Landgraafmarker, The Netherlandsmarker. They performed on the pyramid stage at Glastonbury 2009 and on the main stage at Splendour in Nottingham 2009. Madness released a new single, "Sugar and Spice" on 2 August. It is available to download via iTunes or stream via Spotify.

The band announced in August 2009 that Regent Streetmarker would be closed off on 27 September 2009 for the band to play a free concert in association with Absolute Radio.

On Friday 28 August Madness played the Rock en Seine festival near Paris, on the same night where Oasis brothers Noel and Liam Gallagher engaged in a physical altercation, resulting in the split of the band. As Oasis cancelled their headlining slot, Madness, even though having played earlier in the evening, were asked to replace them. Madness accepted the invitation and both of their sets during festival were said to have been extremely well received.

In September 2009 the band announced they would embark on a Christmas tour of the UK, playing at various medium sized venues and a third consecutive date at The O2marker.

September also saw the release of a new Madness Greatest Hits album, entitled Total Madness , which charted at no. 11 in the UK album charts. The next Madness single, taken from The Liberty of Norton Folgate, will be Forever Young.


Madness collaborated with Elvis Costello in 1983 on a version of their song "Tomorrow's ". It was released as a bonus track to the 12" copy of the single. In later years Mike Barson stated that Costello's "Watching the Detectives" was the main influence on the song "My Girl". For the Wonderful album in 1999, Ian Dury laid down vocals on the track "Drip Fed Fred" which was released as the last single from the album. Subsequently it was Ian's last recording before his death. Live, Madness have collaborated with artists such as UB40 and Prince Buster, notably at their first Madstock concert. They have also played live frequently with members of the other 2 Tone bands, such as The Specials. In May 2008, Suggs and Carl performed live with The Pet Shop Boys at London's Heaven collaborating on a new composition of My Girl. A few days afterwards, Pet Shop Boys' posted their own version of the track on their official website.

Lyrical themes

Frequent themes in Madness' songs included childhood memories (e.g. "Baggy Trousers", "Our House") and petty crime (e.g. "Shut Up", "Deceives the Eye"). Although Madness were seen by some as somewhat of a humorous band with catchy, bouncy songs, many of their songs took a darker tone (such as the singles "Grey Day" and "Tomorrow's ") and they sometimes tackled what were, at the time, controversial issues in their lyrics. "Embarrassment" (from the Absolutely album) was written by Lee Thompson, and reflected the unfolding turmoil following the news that his teenage sister had become pregnant and was carrying a black man's child. Madness discussed animal testing in the song "Tomorrow's Dream". The band criticised the National Health Service in "Mrs. Hutchinson", which told the story of a woman who, after several misdiagnoses and mistreatment, became terminally ill. The story was based on the experiences of Mike Barson's mother. Madness' final single prior to disbanding, " The Ghost Train", commented on apartheid in South Africa.

Skinhead controversy

Early in their career, Madness were linked to skinheads; members of a Britishmarker working class subculture that the media often stereotyped as racist (although many skinheads, including the original generation, are non-racist or anti-racist). Not only were Madness, along with other 2 Tone bands, popular with skinheads, but it was said that the band members themselves were associated with the subculture. The band's relationship with the skinheads varied at times. Mike Barson was particularly displeased with the band's skinhead association, often finding it disappointing that so many were present at performances. Prior to becoming a full member of the band, Chas Smash had been involved in fights with skinheads at performances. In one particular incident on 18 November 1979, Madness were supported by "Red Beans and Rice", who featured a black lead singer, and the band were prevented from completing the performance due to the racist chants from certain members of the skinhead filled audience. Suggs later came on stage to show his displeasure at their behaviour, but this did not stop much of the audience from Nazi saluting at the end of the show.

In a 1979 NME interview, Madness member Chas Smash was quoted as saying "We don't care if people are in the NF as long as they're having a good time." This added to speculation that Madness was a racist band supporting the National Front, although the band members denied those allegations, and Chas Smash responded to the NME article in the song "Don't Quote Me On That". Eventually, band members denied their skinhead roots, which disappointed much of their skinhead fan base.


The band's first notable musical award came in 1983 when they won an "Ivor Novello Award" for Best Song for the international hit "Our House". They received another "Ivor Novello Award" 17 years later for an "Outstanding Song Collection". In 2005, they were awarded the MOJO "Hall of Fame" Award, notably for being 'an artist's artist'. As of 2007, a campaign is taking place by fans of Madness for the band to be awarded a Brit award. Many fans and critics feel they have been overlooked over their past 30 years in the music industry. In July 2009, Madness were awarded the 'Silver Clef' Icon Award.



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  2. Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. Retrieved on 19 June 2007.
  3. Rice 1990. p286
  4. For Madness, the figure of 214 weeks does not include the 4 weeks on the charts by spin-off band "The Madness". For UB40, the 214 weeks does not include the 8 weeks spent on the charts by "Reckless", credited to "Afrikaa Bambaataa and Family with UB40".
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